Hollywood loves a great storyline. Newspapers love headlines. People love both tragedy and heroism. Sadly, if you watch the local news you’ll notice that there are far more stories related to the first than there are to the second.
Why is heroism growing so rare? Doctors are afraid of malpractice charges even more than the common citizen is afraid of being sued. The “Good Samaritan” Law seems to have fallen away. We’ve become a society so fearful of hurt feelings (and the legal action that shortly follows) that many people have simply stopped making the tough calls even though they are the right calls to make.
Almost 50 years ago, during the rise of the civil liberties movement, there were many people who spoke out about racial equality. Many legendary leaders were thrust into view of the American people- Martin Luther King, Jr. being one of the most memorable with his “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As the United States was stumbling toward acceptance, many people played roles in tearing down barriers of separation. People with no political aspirations used their everyday lives to impact the course of history by influencing change in their own backyards. Even the basketball coach of a small West Texas college made history for his choices.
At the school now known as the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP, formerly Texas Western), the newly minted head basketball coach, Don Haskins, made the decision to select a bi-racial team to represent the Miners. One of the first coaches in the South to do so, Haskins allowed his players to pass creatively and use what was then considered a slightly more flamboyant style of play with slam dunk finishes. The team played as a unit despite the racial pressures from the outside community and went 23-1 in 1966. Only after a player was beaten while traveling for an away game did the spirit of the team falter. Their only loss came at the final regular season game of the year- a loss that Coach Haskins said was due to the social “weight” his black players carried given the hostilities and racial tension at the time.
Going into the NCAA Championships ranked third in the nation, the Miners’ Coach made a bold decision. Knowing that they were going to face a well-prepared, all-white Kentucky Wildcat squad in the finals, Haskins called his players into the empty arena the evening before and told them his plan. Every member of his team agreed that it was the right thing to do.
That next day, Haskins team entered the arena and his starting line-up was something U.S. Collegiate basketball had never seen. It was an all-black squad. His remaining two black players were the only suited alternates. The white members of the team sat on the bench and cheered their teammates toward victory. In what has been considered one of the most unexpected wins in NCAA history, the Miners put away the Wildcats with a win of 72-65. They also came home to El Paso to a roaring crowd of support and a community whose perceptions were forever changed.
Monday Morning Perspective
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” –Robert Louis Stevenson
One group of young men and their coach made a brave call. The impact of their decision resonated throughout collegiate basketball (Hello Kareem Abdul Jabbar!) and into the NBA (slam dunks, anyone?!?)- and right through the hearts of Americans alongside the voices of our many civil rights activists.
Tough decisions can be controversial. It can seem like conceding to the easy wrong might make life a little easier, but we grow through struggle and we must lead others down a path toward the right choice. This statement was true during the 1960’s when the walls of racial segregation were being torn down. It was true in the 1970’s when our young war fighters were returning home from Vietnam and needed our support. And it is equally true today as we move from a national economy focus and toward a global one.
We are given opportunities to make a choice between selfishness and selflessness. Modern day heroes are made when an average individual makes the selfless choice. How often are we brave enough to make the tough call?
Here’s to making choices that we’ll be able to be proud of!
Have a wonderful week!
© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.